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Charlotte Amalie
Thursday, December 7, 2023


Presiding Territorial Court Judge Verne A. Hodge used Friday's third annual Virgin Islands Judicial Conference to criticize what he called the federalization of local and civil criminal cases.
Hodge said local cases are being linked to federal charges in order to subordinate the Territorial Court to the District Court in trying what he said are, in fact, local cases.
Hodge cited the case of Ian E. Williams Jr., a police officer who is being held without bail on charges of witness tampering and third-degree assault in connection with alleged domestic violence. Witness tampering is a federal offense.
Hodge pointed to a similar domestic violence case that had been tried recently in Territorial Court. That case, Hodge said, had not been federalized. He denounced the double standard, according to a report by WVWI Radio One news.
Hodge expressed concern that the breach of "fundamental fairness" would lead to civil disobedience and put judges at risk. He said the continued subordination of the Territorial Court to the federal District Court could lead to loss of respect for law and order, and could even result in the reversal of decisions.
However, under questioning from attorneys, he conceded that the Territorial Court has a heavy backlog of civil cases. That factor, some attorneys said, prompts them to file some cases in District Court when they have a choice because those cases are heard and decided more quickly.
Hodge also blasted what he called the District Court's interference with and decisions on the legality of local statutes, seeming to refer to District Judge Thomas K. Moore's recent opinion on the validity of the territory's Wrongful Discharge Act.
In February, Moore dismissed portions of a suit tried in District Court under the Wrongful Discharge Act based on his opinion that the territorial act is pre-empted by federal labor law.
Though Hodge had previously announced that he would step down from the bench this year, he made it official Friday by saying he will retire Nov. 5, 11 days before his 65th birthday.
"I've been on the bench for over 20 years," he said. "That's too long."
Hodge, a Howard University Law School graduate, has been the Territorial Court's presiding judge for 23 years.
Other issues addressed at the conference involved pro bono work. Territorial Court Judge Ishmael Meyers said he has been forced all too often to counsel people who have come before him without proper legal representation, according to a Daily News report.
Speakers agreed that pro bono work is one of the obligations of being a lawyer, and urged colleagues to do more free work for the poor.
One other bit of news at the conference: A District Court Internet site is being developed that will hold court decisions and calendars.

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